HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC)
Transparency of data is no good when people can’t access the site
Setting the scene: As part of a plan to improve the transparency of UK government spending, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) launched an online tool for calculating the amount of tax paid based on earnings, and where this money is spent by the government. The tool was launched on Monday 28th May 2012 on the HMRC website, as well as in app form for iOS and Android devices. The calculator is supposedly “a big step towards a more transparent, 21st century system”, according to exchequer secretary to the Treasury David Gauke.
Performance Nightmare: In an all too familiar story for online government tools with the remit of “providing transparency” to the public, the tax calculator website crashed within hours of launching. The site was unavailable to users as HMRC admitted that the issues were “purely” down to “phenomenal demand”, as 400,000 people tried to access the website in its first morning. Instead, many were greeted with the error message “Sorry, the HMRC Tax Calculator is currently not available. We apologise for any inconvenience caused. Please try again later.”
This is not the first time that public interest in a new online tool, touted as promoting government transparency, has fallen at the first hurdle. As we wrote about in a previous post, back in February 2011 the police website’s crime map tool crashed catastrophically under the strain of 18 million hits an hour on its first day, and both the US (1940) and UK (1901) census websites, launched ten years apart from each other, were crippled on their first day by overwhelming demand. This new story of the HMRC service crashing is already gaining attention in mainstream media, just as the examples listed above did, which does not give a positive impression on the quality of these services.